James sat in the passenger seat, examining the pistol he had retrieved from the dead man on the floor. I’ve never seen anything this clean before. A loud thud boomed from behind, James turned around to look out the open rear window. Megan’s truck was wavering in the distance, with a puff of black smoke above it. “Turn around!”
Tate looked in the mirror, “Shit.” He accelerated harder and turned around so fast the truck nearly lifted onto two wheels. James slid across the seat into Tate, with the corpse flinging to James’ lap. Tate yelled, “Get off me, ya fuck!”
James tossed the body and began to climb out the back window. “Your buddy Gian said we didn’t stand a chance, I thought I’d have to make a speech or something to make you turn back.”
Tate pushed James’ ass to force him out of the cab, “I have more people I care about on that truck than you!”
James yelled back over the wind, “Fair enough!”
The young man untied one corner of the tarp and climbed underneath. The shade from the blistering sun was helpful, but inside the tarp was still baking. James found ultraviolet bulbs snuggly secure atop the pile. Could’ve used these the other night.
Digging through the driver side, James found his double harpoon launcher. He poked his head out and yelled through the sand cloud, “I have a plan!”
James looked through the cab and saw Megan’s truck quickly approaching. About twenty seconds away. A thick, yellow Humvee trailed to the side of the eighteen wheeler, and Tate was driving straight at it.
Tate yelled, “Get ready to jump!”
James popped in the window and showed the harpoon, “Honestly my idea isn’t much different. Turn back around so we can match the truck’s speed and get onto it safely.”
“I’d rather just jump at the last minute. More fun.”
“What if you miss?”
“Well what if you miss?”
“How old are you? Really?”
“Seventeen. How old are you old man?”
“You know what, just let me off first, then you can play chicken.”
“Fine.” Tate turned around again and slowed down until the truck was closer.
James closed his eyes and took a breath. “Just remember I let you live.”
“Yeah, right before you stole my livelihood. Checkmate.”
“Okay. Just keep the truck between us and the mini-tank.”
“You just had to say tank didn’t you?”
James sighed, I’m so glad I never had a kid. He climbed back out of the cab and untied the rest of the tarp. The brown sheet was caught by the wind, flying back to cover the entirety of the Humvee’s windshield. “Huh.”
James cocked his head as he realized the driver wasn’t adjusting course at all. No one reached out of the door to grab the tarp either. “Tate, there’s no one inside! I think it’s automated.”
Tate steered the pickup in front of Megan’s truck. “What does that mean?”
James strapped his launcher behind his belt. “It means you won’t kill anyone even if your plan works. Get behind the yellow t-thing, and I’ll use this to connect you to it. Then we won’t lose any vehicles.”
“So… get behind the thing, gotcha.”
James narrowed his eyes to read Tate’s blank expression. Fuck it. James was close enough to step off of the pickup bed and onto the front of Megan’s flat fender.
Inside the driver window, Megan rose her hands as if to ask, ‘What the hell is happening?’
James tried to give her a reassuring thumbs up. When she stared at him, he just shrugged and climbed onto the roof. A short jump got him onto the trailer, which he could see was warped and torn apart. James brought up his pistol and made his way to the back. The truck and trailer were painted with a smooth beige coat, but on top, James saw the large white numbers “01” printed the width of the trailer.
Tate’s pickup slowly edged along the trailer’s passenger side. James could see the teenager had a pistol in hand as well. Both men steadily made their way back to the twisted metal.
James’ boots managed to find steady footing as the trailer buckled back and forth, dipping harder on the driver side than the other. The explosion must’ve damaged the shocks. The mechanic glanced to the blinded Humvee, still keeping pace with the corner of the trailer. James had a feeling the vehicle hadn’t been automated for the whole drive out here.
Getting closer to the edge of the torn trailer, James heard something thumping inside. He carefully leaned over to see the bottom and sides of the trailer had been blown apart equally. Can’t jump down. The banging seemed to slow down, then sped up again.
James looked around a long piece of shrapnel about waist high. Tate’s truck was still out of the Humvee’s line of sight. James signaled Tate to stay. He ran a crude calculation in his head. Can’t do anything else.
A few steps back, James drew in some deep breaths and made sure the pistol’s safety was off. The young man ran and jumped from the steadiest sheet of metal he had seen. James couldn’t hear anything for a few seconds. Landing on the hood with a thud, James’ left knee hit the windshield and he nearly lost the gun as he face planted on top of the roof.
Grunting, James pushed himself up to a kneeling position. He was suddenly aware of a turret above the driver side headlight. It was heavily damaged, but James was certain of what it was, even in its charred, warped state. He didn’t see a turret over the other headlight though. Okay.
James pulled down on the tarp and pressed his pistol against the black glass. Never saw a tint this dark. He had expected some response from a driver, but this seemed more and more to be a vehicle on autopilot. The door handle seemed too far down to safely reach from the roof, that’s when James noticed the moon roof. It was easy to miss as it was just as black as the rest of the roof. The mechanic felt around the glass for an opening.
The vehicle cut towards the passenger side. James barely caught his balance in time, and found himself sitting against the windshield, looking in the back of the damaged trailer.
A muscular redhead was wearing the same black uniform as Tate, though it looked like it had been burned, slashed and torn apart. The soldier had a small boy in arm. In the other arm was Deborah, on her knees with her arms apparently tied behind her back. The soldier stared at James and said something he couldn’t hear.
The Humvee sped ahead as the woman dropped to draw a pistol. James flinched and rolled onto his vehicle’s roof and fumbled with the moon roof. There were three ricochets before James looked up to see the black glass hiding him from view. “Holy fuck!”
James felt the vehicle shake, and the redhaired woman with pale blue eyes was crouching on the hood. Before she could stand, James rolled to the side and fired as many rounds as he could. Bursts of steam erupted from the broad woman’s face and left arm.
The woman was shooting back, even without a direct hit, the muzzle blasts were brutal. Black powder burned his eyes and cheeks, assaulting his nostrils and summoning a symphony of deafening chimes in his ears.
Her pistol was empty; she holstered it as the steam erupting from her face and arms was mixed with a greenish mist. She wrapped her arm over her head to block the sun, but it didn’t seem to help.
James patted himself down. Did I pack another clip?
The woman stomped forward, dropped the toddler through the moon roof and closed it behind him with her boot. Her other boot swept forward into James’ gut, sliding him to the edge of the roof.
James’ leg dangled as he fought for air. The woman was still coming. James quickly looked left.
Tate’s truck slammed the passenger side. James barely caught the edge of the roof before sliding off the driver’s side. He looked up at the woman caught off balance. Tate threw her off balance more by emptying his own pistol into her torso.
The vamp’s face disappeared in a jetting cloud of green steam. James couldn’t hear what Tate was yelling, but he was pointing with his empty pistol very deliberately. The mechanic pushed himself to a knee and shoved the woman off of the roof.
The woman reacted immediately and countered James in a way that ended with him back on the hood again. He looked back and saw that she was reaching down for the moon roof.
I got nothing else.
James didn’t have time to disconnect it. He twisted to his hands and knees and flicked a switch on the console attached to his left wrist. A harpoon launched from the small of his back, catching the woman straight through her left thigh. The attached cable had plenty of slack.
While she was stunned, James removed the device from his back and aimed at Tate’s pickup bed. He used the trigger on the launcher this time. Tate flinched, but the harpoon and attached cable were clearly aimed above the back tire.
James yelled, “Right turn!”
Tate faded from momentary shock to a wide smile. He turned away from the Humvee.
James looked back to see the woman pull out a curved blade, raised above her head. The mechanic released the launcher as the cable went taut. The woman’s body immediately flew off of the roof; her long blade fell point down into the roof.
The young man looked back at the mixture of steam and sand flying in the air. His hearing slowly returned, just in time to hear the angriest, loudest roar of pain he had ever heard.
Tate steered the truck back beside the Humvee. He yelled over the rushing wind, “James! James! James!”
“I think I should drive that thing. Since you know… you stole my tank. Not sure if you remember that or not. Just thought I’d suggest it. You know… ease our tribal relations and what not.”
James ignored him outright and fumbled with the moon roof until it opened. He poked his head inside, “You okay buddy?”
Tate yelled, “His name’s Tommy! I should probably ride with him. You’re kind of a stranger you know? He’d feel a lot better if we just switched.”
James twisted around until he could slide into the Humvee boots first. Tate started to yell something about driving stick, but James sealed the window, cutting off the excess sound from outside.
Tommy was hunched in a ball on the floor of the passenger seat. James fought the urge to examine the faintly glowing gauges, numbers, switches and a holographic heads up display sprawled against the windshield.
“She’s gone buddy. You’re safe now.”
The boy peeked an eye over his elbow. James strained to hear him, “Is Deborah okay?”
James looked ahead, but he couldn’t see through the black windshield. “Let’s check.”
After a few switches and knobs, James found a dimmer setting that completely removed the black tint. He could just see through the thin dust cloud behind Megan’s truck. Deborah was sitting on one side of the trailer. The back of her bare arm looked charred, with the rest of her stolen uniform as badly damaged as the redhead’s. Her skinny arm shook as she raised a radio to her mouth.
“Oh.” James found the radio and switched it to one zero one point one.
Deborah’s voice came through the speakers, “—hurt? Come in.”
Tommy lit up with a grin, “Aunt Debbie!”
James smiled. It felt awkward somehow, like he had forgot how. He didn’t see a radio handle until he saw a PTT button on the steering wheel. “Say again aunt Debbie?” He smiled even wider when he saw her shake her head.
“Are you or Tommy hurt?”
“Nope. We’re all good.”
Tate cut in, “Hey Megan, can you convince these two that I should be driving the yellow thing? I have the most tank experience.”
Megan sounded annoyed, “Shut up Tate,” she then adopted a warm tone, “Are you okay Tommy?”
James pushed the button and nodded.
Tommy looked around, apparently unsure of where he should speak, “Um, yeah mom. Uncle Tate and the skinny man saved me. The scary woman is gone. And I don’t mean aunt Debbie this time.”
James saw Deborah shake her head again.
Tommy asked, “What’s your name?”
“I’m James. It’s nice to meet you Tommy.”
“Are we really safe now?”
“Almost.” James got back on the radio, “Okay everyone, how are we getting the rest of our people back?”